Category: Political Science

Insanity with nuclear trigger


May be it is the right way to deal with an unpredictable dictator like Kim Jong Un. May be it is the only way to call his bluff. May be it is a vastly different way to tackle North Korean bluster. May be this way there will be some positive movement towards a dialogue.

But, whatever it is, for the chief of the most powerful country in the world, and that too the only nation which has actually used a nuclear weapon in war, to make the statements that President Trump made over the course of the past one week, shows that a nuclear nightmare is indeed not only probable, but entirely possible.

We now have, not one mad man at the nuclear trigger, but two. Of course, one is on a smallish trigger (which may or may not work), but the other one has thousands of nuclear bombs and means of delivery at his disposal. For President Trump, it is very easy to “nuke” North Korea, whether the U.S. Congress gives permission or not, whether the United Nations agrees or not.

Diplomacy is in tatters, finally.

World’s governance is moving to mad men, finally. At some stage in the history of the world, this was thought feasible, of course. But, now, we are finding that the most powerful man in the world actually does not have checks and balances when it comes to exercise of the strategic nuclear command. If President Trump wakes up today (being a Sunday), and does not like the latest utterances by the “small” mad man, then with his impetuosity, he can order either a traditional attack on the nuclear and missile sites in North Korea, or order his SEALS or marines to go in and capture Kim Jong Un, or press the nuclear trigger.

While obviously such actions are always contemplated by all U.S. Presidents, that investigation and discussion are always done in absolute secrecy. Not exposed via the infamous Twitter handle of the President!

It will not be inappropriate to state that the Western Allies are shaking in their shoes after reading President Trump’s Twitter blasts against North Korea. Some must be holding the tables and some must be banging the tables. Some must be cursing.

Threatening situation, isn’t it?

You can visualize the mushroom clouds. More than 210,000 people died in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Think about the power of the latest nuclear bombs 70 years later, with much more potential to cause huge havoc in an area as densely populated as Seoul…….

It is very unusual and unbecoming of the U.S. President to talk like the way President Trump did. Nothing is unusual about North Korea, however. That is the way North Korea operates. Personally, I don’t think their ICBMs will fly as long as they think, and their nuclear bomb miniaturization could be a false report designed to generate anxiety amongst military circles. Their ICBMs should be shot down once they cross Japan, and that will be done in any case by Japan and the U.S.

What should the world do?

That is for another blog post. When things settle down (without a war of course), world historians will critique the behaviour of North Korea and the U.S. They will draw conclusions which would eventually force the U.S. Congress to implement a system which would enforce a joint decision-making between the President and the Congress when it comes to matters as critical as this – annihilation of millions of people by couple of insane folks who just have the triggers, but not the wise counsel enjoyed by other Presidents.

How can anyone sleep at peace in the night like what U.S. politicians are asking Americans to do? Everyone has thinking capability and everyone should think.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th August 2017

Note: My tagging of this blog post is intentional…….see for yourself.

 

Censorship on School Campuses


This post is about the intolerance plaguing American University Campuses, which label themselves as mostly “liberal”.

What does “liberal” mean in its correct sense?

“Liberal” means a generously endowed viewpoint, with no outward biases towards anyone, an acceptance of anyone’s ideas, an examination of all kinds of viewpoints, et al. “Liberal” in itself, denotes “acceptance” of anyone, any idea. This is all the more critical on university campuses, which pride themselves on their openness to outside influences and ideas.

A particular viewpoint, simply because it is considered too “conservative” or it is emanating from a conservative speaker, cannot be construed as “illiberal” and so not worthy of a meaningful analysis and discussion amongst elitist liberals. Such a rejection, subtle or otherwise, points towards an intolerance which is commonly not found on university campuses, or in the environs of academic research.

Why then are the students of famous universities not open to listening to conservative, though controversial, speakers with some standing in society? Why are the universities losing their cool and reversing their invitations to such speakers? Why are they blaming the potential law and order problems that could evolve if the university administrators do indeed allow the conservative speakers on campuses?

How come universities are under the control of left-wing student organizations? How is this the only acceptable mode of operation on a university campus? How come left-wingers are considered more acceptable as compared to right-wingers?

My conclusion is that most people do not like to hear differing views. There are many governments around the world who would not like to even discuss opposing views to their ideology. I have plenty of friends who want to have “alignment”, which simply means they wish to have my endorsement of their views. I may or may not endorse their views, but strong endorsement results in strong inclusion. You become “part and parcel” of a particular group of thinkers or ideologists, and you will become either a left-winger or a right-winger.

On a political note, most people that I meet belong to a non-conservative ideology (though they may follow a strictly conservative ideology when it comes to their personal lives). Very few conservatives wish to show that they are one, especially in Asia. I am sure that this is not the case in the U.S. however. As a visitor to the U.S., I keep my views to myself, and rarely indulge in a free-for-all, late night discussion on what is right and what is wrong.

Left-wing idealists do indeed induce some fear due to their overwhelming numbers, and their strength is further enhanced by Democratic Party Officials / Cabinet Members / Liberals at university commencement speeches. Conservatives tend to be richer and elusive to a certain extent, keeping their views to a strictly conservative network of friends and associates wherein their acceptability is rather high.

My surmise is simple – if university and college campuses proclaim themselves as liberal centres of higher learning and research, it is imperative on their part to be open to all viewpoints, irrespective of political ideologies, race, gender or colour of the speakers invited to campuses. Such “different” kind of speakers cannot be shouted down simply because they do not conform to the regular left-wing expectations.

Significant time goes into evaluating all kinds of speakers and determining who would be the right fit for a commencement speech. A number of committees approve the selection. However, due to pressure from a certain group of students, the university administration decides to call off the invitation. This is utter nonsense and not compatible with academic criteria on assessment, evaluation, determination and collaboration.

Students can choose to hear just one type of view all their lives and they will be poorer to that extent, and universities should not be absolved of their dereliction towards their academic duties concerning impartiality of viewpoints.

I am sure there are many dissenters but this is my view. All views should be analyzed, discussed, debated and discarded or accepted. University campuses are the most important crucibles for experimentation of new ideas, and they need to defend their status against any vested student community, irrespective of political or religious ideologies.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th July 2017

 

 

Needling Russia


“Mother Russia” should not be trifled with.

At least not by other European countries.

It’s OK for the U.S. to say bad things about Russia, impose sanctions, and get away with whatever the Senate, or the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress wishes to impose. It’s also fine for Nikki Haley, the Permanent Ambassador of the U.S. to the U.N. Security Council to utter very bad things about Russia, which are in any case, totally ignored by Russia.

Russia is a difficult country to deal with, no doubt about it. Russia is also unpredictable on most occasions. It is true that Russia sometimes takes inexplicable decisions, and sides with some of the world’s worst dictators. It is also true that minus the energy (oil and natural gas) business, there is virtually nothing in Russia that the world would want to buy (except of course, its defence equipment). It is true that Russia is not a transparent country.

Notwithstanding all of the above, Russia is still one of the top 5 greatest countries in the world (in my opinion). It has the largest land mass for a country, almost twice the size of the U.S. or China, but with less than half the population of the U.S. It is a permanent veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council. It possesses massive weapons of mass destruction. Russia is a space power as well. And, Russia has huge natural resources.

The erstwhile Soviet Union was even bigger, and more powerful than Russia. But, under President Putin, Russia has been fast regaining some of the power it had lost, with a rapid military modernisation program, and an assertiveness which is yet to be matched by the Western nations. Russia has a strong mind of its own, and makes its own calculations on the emerging strategic scenario, and does not toe the line of any other major power. Russia has been a constant thorn on the side of the U.S., which has not been able to completely claim its world super power No.1 status after President Putin’s ascendancy.

Given this situation, what is the best course of action for European nations, many of who share borders with Russia?

Sabre-rattling with NATO is one way, which most European countries are already doing in a visible manner just to threaten Russia. Do they honestly think that Russia is bothered? Of course, it is annoyed, and somewhat concerned when it sees the most advanced missile systems from the U.S. in its backyard. Increasingly, Russia also sees NATO military exercises happening very close to its borders. However, notwithstanding such provocations, Russia knows that one missile strike by NATO, or one misadventure of any sort by NATO, would set the clock back on Europe to medieval times. All of Europe is very conveniently located within easy reach of Russia’s airforce and missiles, and any war over European skies is sure to cause extensive destruction. And, the U.S. is far away to have a real problem on its soil.

Given this scenario, it is only but natural that Finland has set a model for dancing with the big white bear. Finland shares a long border with Russia, and there has been no military adventure of any sort along its border for a rather long time. In fact, Russia has long ago pulled back its armed forces from the Finnish border, and maintains a peaceful relationship with Finland. Though technically Finland is a Western country, it is not a NATO member. That fact has helped to maintain the peace and the calm between the two nations.

In any case, why fight against a very large country with nuclear weapons and long range missiles? Of course, the forced acquisition of Crimea by Russia back in 2014 has upset all European nations, especially the ones who were under Soviet occupation after the Second World War. It has brought back rather unpleasant memories, and the real possibility that President Putin would go far to reclaim the lost Soviet glory.

In my opinion, Russia wants to be recognised genuinely as a world power, compatible with its status as a U.N. Security Council Member. It does not like the constant needling by NATO at its edges, and the expanding threats that it sees everyday on the tactical side and the expansion of NATO on the strategic side. Left alone, Russia is not a threat, it just wants respect and recognition. It wants trade with the West, not sanctions on the basis of  unproven assertions, such as what has been imposed on it by the U.S. Congress earlier this week. It would like to settle the war in Syria, and could be leveraged to pressurise North Korea. It sees that the U.S. sanctions are going to affect its export of natural gas to Western Europe, affecting its hard currency earnings.

Russia sees some positive signs from Germany, Italy and France, though not from the U.K. Europe does not like the ongoing confusion in the U.S. with President Trump’s Government, and is afraid that further tightening of the sanctions against Russia would affect Europe as well.

Given all of the above, it would be better for EU/NATO to sign a peace treaty with Russia and constrain both sides from aggression. Imagine what would happen when an unknown person succeeds President Putin as the next Russian President – wild cards are terrible for foreign policy, like what we have seen with President Trump.

Time for peace, Europe and Russia. Work for a stronger Europe and a stable Russia, and engage Russia in joint policymaking and mutual trade, rather than constantly threatening each other.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2017

 

 

 

The Danger of China


China is the world’s most populous country, and its second largest economy with a GDP of USD 11.2T in 2016. Its GDP per capita stands at a little more than USD 8,000. This is a huge accomplishment in less than 25 years. The size of China’s economy dwarfs that of India by a ratio of 5:1 and is more than twice the size of the Japanese economy. It has only the U.S. to surpass (the size of the U.S. economy in 2016 was USD 18.6T). China is a U.N. Security Council member and wields significant influence in world affairs by throwing its political, economic and military muscle all together.

However, most people forget that China is a totalitarian regime, with its Communist party ruling the nation for the past nearly seven decades with an iron hand, with very little tolerance for dissent. The major difference is the adoption of free market philosophy by the Communist party in 1979 when the then Chairman Deng Xiao Ping opened up the Chinese economy to outsiders and global investments. But, one can never forget the fact that the regime is authoritarian and flexes its muscles against its own citizens and other countries who are seen to be going against its interests.

Since there is no democracy in China, generally outsiders (and citizens) have to toe the party line and government mandates in their operations in China. People who don’t are punished. After all what can you expect from a dictatorship which is not accountable to the people of the country?

All this could be fine for the trading nations of the world and for countries who are afraid of the growing might of China. However, what is not fine is the militant aggression demonstrated by China on its way to the apex of the world. And, now there is just one country which could test China’s limits and arrest its aggression. That is, of course, the U.S. No other country can hamper China’s intentions as badly as the U.S.

China claims all of South China Sea as its own, and is soon planning to extend its Air Defense Identification Zone to West Pacific Ocean. There is one simple strategy that China is adopting – that its Navy should be able to access and control seas which are thousands of miles away from its own shores. So, it is developing a Blue Ocean Navy capable of operating far away from its shores, like the U.S. Even Russia, the U.K., and France have their limits, but apparently China does not have any limits – financial or otherwise. It is seeking to claim world hegemony like what the U.K. did in its heydays, and what the U.S. has been doing via its global military might posturing over the past several decades.

China wishes to challenge the U.S. in every sphere. It is very clear that China does not play by international rules. It has consistently ignored mandates and rulings from global multilateral institutions (not unlike the U.S.). It has ignored the ruling of the World Court on the territorial sovereignty of the Philippines. It will continue to do so, as China feels it cannot be challenged. The ASEAN nations will toe China’s line, as these countries are dependent on China for trade. Chinese economy is far too big for any country to ignore. So China cleverly uses its economy as a big carrot for making countries follow its diktat.

There are a few countries who won’t do that as a matter of philosophy, apart from the U.S. India is a good example of a nation which would stand on its own, irrespective of what China does or does not do. China, for example, has not allowed India its much desired access to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but that has not held India back from doing nuclear commerce with several countries such as Australia. China needles India along the Line of Control at the border between the two countries, but so far India has stood its ground. Of course, it is easy to see that the U.S. and India are large countries with significant power on the world stage. India also adopts a multi-pronged alliance strategy by working with the U.S., Japan, and Australia on military related matters such as joint naval exercises.

The Chinese Navy is conducting joint naval exercises with Russia in Baltic Sea this week, and alarm bells are ringing (rightfully) in many Western capitals. Baltic Sea is very, very far from China, and yet China has chosen to send some of its most advanced ships for this exercise. The U.S. must be worried. Europe is a very different theatre, with many countries closely packed together and several of these countries have borders with Russia. And, Russia has a Baltic sea port in Kaliningrad.

The unfortunate thing is that China is not a transparent nation with democratic ideals and an open society and media. Many things are unknown and not discussed in civil society. This is the most worrying factor for other nations, who have to depend on what the Chinese leaders publicly say and do, and then carry out their own assessments and preparations.

So, China is a danger to world stability and peace, unless it becomes less aggressive and less petty in dealing with smaller Asian nations. A country, irrespective of its size or population, cannot aspire to become a global leader who is respected around the world, while trying to steal what is rightfully others’ property and livelihood. China needs to learn this fact, and learn it very quickly. It needs to develop “soft” power like what the U.S. also has (apart from its hard military power), and that would take China a much longer time than just 25 years. China also would not be able to match India on “soft” power – India has much more respect on the world stage and is considered mostly a friend if not a big trading nation.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd July 2017

 

Never a boring day


Never a boring day.

Yes, it has never been boring with all the action in Washington DC, mostly caused by President Donald Trump himself.

Last week has been another chaotic week with President Trump causing significant damage to his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions blaming him in connection with his recusal from the Russia investigation. President Trump criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the ex FBI Director in charge of the Russia investigation. He criticized Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who appointed Robert Mueller to the post of Special Counsel. He even went on to say that he can pardon anyone, including his relatives, friends, and even himself! I have not even attempted to cover all that President Trump did to himself in terms of continuous damage over this past week. I can only say with certainty that there were many folks smiling around the world at the funny situation that the President is placing the U.S. in – I was disappointed, as I sincerely had believed that President Trump would be a firm and strong leader with a no nonsense approach to solving not just America’s problems, but also some of the intractable world problems which have been simmering for a long time, and which President Obama could not resolve despite his best efforts.

Now, it has become seriously hard for me to defend President Trump with anyone who has been easy to criticize his indefensible actions and utterances. Honestly, it is not necessary for the President of the U.S. to keep constantly telegraphing his thoughts to the world at large. There are matters which require a deliberate thought process before getting public exposure, and which also require a strong team work within the President’s Cabinet. It is becoming very clear that the President hardly thinks before sending out his infamous tweets on matters of national importance. He needs to urgently realize that running the U.S. Government as its Chief Executive is very different from running his own corporation.

While President Trump has kept the twitterati and the paparazzi scrambling to interpret his tweets and random utterances, he has also continuously pleased with millions of people around the world who are enjoying the fun. Previously the fun was delivered by third world leaders, but now by a first world leader. Why not enjoy it as long as it last?

This will not be good for the image and credibility of the U.S. While President Trump has every right to communicate directly to American Citizens, his treatment of the establishment media can only exacerbate an already rather fragile situation. Since there is some smoke, we cannot fault the news media from their own investigations. President Trump now calls these big news media as “fake news” originators. Even Fox News is slowly distancing itself from close allegiance to the President.

The Republican Party lost its Obamacare repeal initiative in the Senate by not being able to bring it to a vote. It was a huge slap to President Trump, and he could hardly contain his rage against Democrats and a few of the Republican Senators who refused to cooperate.

With all this stuff, it is not unreasonable to think that the U.S. Government business would be at a standstill. Luckily, that is not the case. Things are happening, and decisions are being taken, that is the positive news. It is however apparent that mundane government business is not in the mind of President Trump as he is constantly being challenged on the Russia matter, and he seems to be hating it.

If he stops thinking about it, stops tweeting about it, stops challenging the folks conducting the investigation, stops worrying about what is going to happen to his son and son-in-law and some of his close allies, then everything will get into a better shape. He can bring his extraordinary energy into finding jobs for unemployed Americans, bringing trillions of dollars stashed in foreign shores by U.S. Corporations, rationalizing the complicated U.S. tax regime, investing in the crumbling infrastructure, and many other such initiatives in which he strongly believes in.

However, it has never been a boring day thus far.

Have a great weekend folks,

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

22nd July 2017

Largest and Most Powerful Democracies Meet


Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Washington DC earlier this week, and I happened to be in that city as well, and could witness the impact of his visit at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel, wherein he was supposed to address American CEOs over breakfast on Sunday 25th June. I am publishing this blog post after his visit has been completed since I was on the road, but my thoughts obviously emanate from those couple of days 25th – 26th June.

I was meeting one of my mentors at the Willard, and the security checks at the hotel surprised me. They had the Secret Service and dogs to sniff at the patrons (similar to major Indian five star hotels). Usually, there is no security check when you enter any large hotel complex in the U.S. Apart from that check, I also noticed the big black suburban SUVs outside the hotel, and also a number of folks from India around the hotel.

This visit of PM Modi was unlike the one in 2014 when the White House and President Obama were rooting for him all the way, with his huge outreach to the Indian diaspora, etc., It was a more low key affair this time, and my guess is that nobody was sure how the meeting with President Trump will go – no one could guess it the way it turned out to be in the end. I have seen nobody hugging President Trump, and here the Indian PM hugged him not once, not twice, but thrice – counting the third one from the dinner event on Monday. And, from the expression on President Trump’s countenance, it was apparent he was enjoying the hug!

India was obviously a bit perplexed with President Trump, in contrast to the warmth it enjoyed over President Obama’s second term, when India was designated as “Major Defence Partner” of the U.S., the only one country which was a non-NATO ally. With President Trump, it was a mystery how things will go forward, given the fact that he complained about India reaping billions of dollars as a beneficiary of the Paris Climate deal.

The Indian officials must have heaved a sigh of relief after the world witnessed the personal chemistry of “hugging”, smiling and good mouthing that followed during PM Modi’s visit to the White House. Nothing major came out of the visit though. Critical differences on trade, immigration and climate deal were not probably highlighted given the fact that this was the first time the men were meeting. I would guess that given the right wing mentality and pro-business sentiment that pervades on both sides, it was not a surprise that things indeed turned out well for the future of the strategic ties between the world’s most powerful democracy and its largest one.

The one thing which did come out is a lashing of Pakistan’s terror ties, and it is no wonder that Pakistan immediately challenged both the U.S. and India on that count. The U.S. has been increasingly publicly assertive on Pakistan’s major problems centred on the origins of terrorism, especially on the Kashmir side. Just before the arrival of PM Modi, the U.S. State Department designated a Kashmir militant as a global terrorist, which was received rather well by India.

Overall, PM Modi’s visit was good for India, but the U.S. is likely to push for more open trade, and is unlikely to budge on climate issues. However a positive connection has been established, and it should go a long way in cementing strategic ties.

With India buying USD 2B worth of drones and USD 22B of Boeing planes (order from SpiceJet), the U.S. is seeing a strongly positive uptick on the business side, and that should please the White House.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

25th June 2017

 

Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017